The most successful revolution of the past fifty years has been the "revolt of the haves". Between 1940 and 1970, taxes on the rich were very high. The marginal tax rate on incomes over $1,000,000 was at least 90%. Yet these were the years when the American economy grew steadily, and productivity gains were matched by solid increases in average wages and salaries, and a narrowing gap between the very rich and everyone else. So what happened? The Republican Party convinced millions of ordinary white Americans that black people were prospering off of them, and far too much money and effort was being diverted to the unworthy poor. By 1980, with the Pied Piper from California spinning his fantasies about out "bright, shining city on a hill", and how government was the problem, not the solution, the people were willing to buy the nonsense that massive tax cuts for the rich would translate into prosperity for all, as far as the eye could see. And here we are. The top 0.1% are taking in nearly ALL the additional GDP bring created by the economy. And Trump the simple wants MORE tax cuts, and yet less regulation! Sure, why not?
None of this is news to Americans who live in our largest cities. Chris Rock is probably correct about most middle Americans being oblivious to class inequality. There, the reality of inequality is right in your face, unambiguously and apologetically slapping you, just in case you might miss it. In the small towns and suburbs, where most Americans live, the arrogance and entitlement of our plutocrats -and yes, our kleptocrats too- is more abstract, out of sight, and almost never encountered in person. The great and mighty fly in their private jets, to their palaces in the sky, or their private islands. Out of sight, and out of mind, they float above the rest of us, supremely confident and protected.
I'm afraid this post is going to be a mess. There is no easy way to report on the disappointment that is our capitalist system without writing a book about it. Fortunately, that book was published last summer.
In a summer full of bad news the world over, we in the US should be focused on the five biggest stories that directly effect us: our endless wars, our loss of the Fourth Amendment, our loss of women's reproductive rights, our ongoing water crisis / environmental crisis, and our unsustainable economy.
New York City increasingly relies on executive pay and Wall Street bonuses to keep its treasury full. Once any economy relies on the top 1%, it becomes unsustainable. Even Michael Bloomberg knew this. So the city has had to rely on tourism to make up the gaps. I don't think that is sustainable, either.
This post will focus on our current economy. Simply put, the rich get richer. Here's are just a few angles of the same overall story.
First up, CEO pay is ruining our economy. We now have proof. I can see you are not impressed. Occupy Wall Street tried to make us pay attention, but they didn't succinctly make their case. And now we have articles and books, like the ones above, to prove that Occupy was right, and those kids were on to something. But now we don't give a shit.
But let me elaborate on this a bit more. What does the economy of a city that relies on the top earners look like? How does it function? The answers are right above us, in the new supertall residential buildings going up. In a city in which there is an oversupply of office space, there is a bubble economy in the new luxury residential market.
Who is driving up the prices in new luxury construction? Mainly Wall Street managers and wealthy foreigners. And this price war has helped sustain a real estate appreciation across the whole city that has priced out the middle class. Millions of New Yorkers, whether they care or not, have lost their chance to buy.
Second up, Wall Street. The average Wall Street annual compensation with bonus is $369K. The average white collar NYC salary is $69K. The US median salary is $51K. And over half of New Yorkers make less than $40K. And what is our national economic policy? Be extra nice to those at the top. Given their contributions to the health of the economy, don't they obviously deserve such a large percentage of the income in the city? After all, consider what their taxpayer backed financial manipulations created in 2008. The world has staggered through the deepest recession since World War II, and the authors of this catastrophe have gotten richer every day since. Ah, the wonders of Capitalism.
And third is the current bubble. Looking up and down the Northeast Corridor, one can see that we are in the midst of a dangerous and destructive real estate bubble. While housing in Baltimore and Philadelphia remains affordable, comparitively speaking, the bubble is in full swing in Boston, New York, and Washington DC. Let's take a quick tour.
In Manhattan, the bubble is not done expanding. It wasn't long ago the average sales price of a Manhattan apartment (condo or co-op) exceeded $1 Million. This past fall, it surpassed $1.68 Million. 2014 was simply a blockbuster year for the borough. It marked the continued inflation of a real estate bubble that began in 2002, and survived the national sub-prime explosion. The average price per square foot in Manhattan is over $1,400. Units in Tribeca or those with a view of Central Park, are setting new records above $5,000 and $6,000 per square foot. On the rental side, it was about 15 years ago that we first saw studios pass the $1,000 per month mark. How does $90 per square foot per month sound?
And at the very top of the market, the properties for the top-half of the top 1 percent live in their own bubble that even Tokyo and London do not yet match. The epicenter of this bubble is the new row of super-tall residential towers in the 50s, with offer upper half residents views of Central Park. The entry-level building for this segment, Extell's One 57, has seen its sales grind to a halt while the elite wait for the completion of 432 Park Avenue, which offers more spectacular views and floorplans, and Extell's upcoming 225 West 57th Street, which will set a new height record for residential towers in the western hemisphere.
Outside of the new midtown skyscrapers, there are the blockbuster exotics, like the crazy triplex co-op at the Pierre Hotel, the new penthouse on top of the Puck Building, and the multi-level mansion at the top of our nation's first skyscrpaer, the Woolworth Building.
The Woolworth Building was once the crown jewel of downtown. In some ways, turning it into condominiums for plutocrats nicely summarizes what's happened to the economy, and the once great city of New York.
There had to be a point where the prices in Manhattan would be out of reach for most dual $100K earners. Even the affluent are tiny compared to oligarchs and investment bankers. So they shifted their search to Brooklyn. Now Brooklyn is almost as ridiculous as Manhattan. Wait, did I say almost?
How about Queens, then? Nope. Not affordable any more.
The madness continues. When will the city realize it's sitting on a real estate bubble? And do we really have to be reminded of what inevitably happens to bubbles? But say this for bubbles, they can be fun until they burst.
The high end condos are driving the market, but the law of supply and demand will raise both prices and sales everywhere in New York. At least, until the current bubble bursts, and it hits the fan again. But in the meantime, isn't capitalism fun?
And we have a bonus stop on our tour: Boston.
Have you seen the asking price for the penthouse in the yet unbuilt Millennium Tower next to Filene's in downtown Boston? It won't be finished until 2016, so there's still time to buy, if you can come up with $37,500,000. At that low price, it might attract a bidding war. The new apartment building at the TD Garden will feature apartments on the upper floors of $8,000 to $10,000 a month. IN BOSTON. I guess the Manhattanization of Beantown is nearly complete.